With cut-offs harder to make and the felt-pressure to train oppressive, my first foray into timed racing occurred in May of this year. With no threat of being pulled from a race because I was too slow, my mantra became "Run a little, walk a lot." I was relatively happy doing that for about 22 hours and 50 minutes, stopping shy of 24 hours since I had miraculously clinched second place and would likely not have been able to complete another loop in the remaining time to add it to my total. So when my friends, Rick and Michelle Gray from TN, shortly thereafter invited me to run the last edition of the Buffalo Mountain Endurance Run, I signed up immediately.
Waking up Saturday morning--race morning--I noticed a little nasal stuffiness, not a surprising find since my granddaughter has had a running case of the sniffles and a cough for some time now. But no worries. I headed out to the old Methodist camp where I would engage with the 1.25 mile loop over and over again. I watched as the 36 hour runners, having started an hour earlier, came and went, many walking every step. It had not occurred to me that most in the 36 hour race had no intention of actually being out there for 36 hours. Rather, they wanted enough time to accomplish a goal without being stressed out by napping for several hours or coming and going at will. Others, however, looked like they were on a mission, hunting down that elusive line between possible and impossible.
It did not take very long to identify where I should walk and where I should run. It was a gorgeous day to be traveling along on foot and being a part of the inchworm of humans making steady forward progress. For a little while, I chatted with Sarah Lowell, a talented 60-yr old runner I had met years ago. Then there was Rob Apple, an ultrarunning legend with over 800 ultras to his name. On the short trail section I met Joyce Ong, a 72- year old woman shuffling along with her arm in a sling. She raced every weekend in October at timed events for 12 hours, 48 hours, 96 hours, and this race's 36 hours. Two weeks ago she fell and broke her clavicle in 2 places. "I'm just grateful to be out here," she offered.
I tried hard not to think about the actual number of hours to which I had committed. 24 hours is a really long time. A lot of life transpires within that period of time as the earth spins on its axis. But why had it not occurred to me that had I signed up for 36 hours, it would have given me the margin to go longer and slower to claim a 100 mile buckle, of which I have so few? I could have even rested for several hours and still made the distance. But then again, I reasoned, the thought of going beyond 24 hours when I was at 18 was repulsive. Did I really NEED a cool belt buckle, the ultimate sign of ultra accomplishment? Good decision, right? RIGHT?!?!
With a surprising absence of sleep-deprived hallucinations during the waning hours of nighttime, I made the decision to make 80 miles my race goal. Hence, when the clock hit 23:10, I decided I was done. Through. El Fin. Even the fact that Sarah, a woman in my age group, was still going and would beat me, did not deter me from sinking into a chair to snuggle into a blanket, hands and fingers ridiculously swollen, body now trembling. Yes, I felt a twinge of guilt at losing my competitive drive, knowing we were at the same spot on the same lap when I stopped. (She ended up running 2 more laps to gain the women's 24-hour win at 82.5 miles. I came in second woman and fourth overall at 80 miles.) Still, I guess choosing to "race" in those last 50 minutes was not something I wanted to do bad enough. For that, I admit to pangs of whimpiness.
I was back at Rick and Michelle's house by 0800, the end of the 24-hr race. My friends and I chatted before they left for church and I started scrubbing away at the slime and sweat. But not even the steam in the shower could open up my clogged head. My head ached as I slipped between the sheets and attempted to sleep. But sleep is hard when one cannot breath.
After a few hours of restlessness, I headed the car back toward home. Feeling increasingly more listless, I made a stop at a Taco Bell, taking a 10-minute nap there. Then it was a stop at Walmart to purchase a boatload of daytime and nighttime antihistamines and decongestants, my credentials checked by a cashier to make sure I was old enough for the purchase. (That was amusing.) Additional stops occurred to get rid of race-accumulated fluids and slough off the deep-down lethargy overtaking my being. It was a relief to pull into the driveway in one piece.
Two little pink lines immediately showed up on the test strip. Shoot! After nearly three years of avoiding the C infection, that virus was giving me a run for the money. But where did I get it? Did Addy give it to me? Nope. She tested negative. Did I get it at work? Possibly. At least one co-worker was confirmed to have it at the time of this writing. But does it matter? Not really. My flight has been canceled. My key-note will be delivered virtually.
I had no idea my race would end with a pink finish line. But it did.